August 14 and 15

Recently finished with all of my adventures in the Republic of Ireland so click away if you might have missed some days.

Welcome to Stephen's house in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Stephen books out his spare room with airbnb and he's made a great success of it. Good job Stephen!

It was a long travel day - 8 hours on 4 different trains having to backtrack through Dublin. Stephen was there at the train station to pick me up. Nice! Here's my welcome Irish Toddy. Nice!!
My first day in Belfast and I do what I like to do first - go to the Visitor's Center and get maps and brochures then visit the town center which usually includes the Cathedral and the City Hall.

This is the City Hall and I arrived at the most opportune time since a tour was just kicking off.
We all got to have a picture made in the Lord Mayor's chair.
Nice stained glass...
...and an excellent guide. We heard the long history from old times to today.

They have portraits of the Lord Mayors each painted by an artist selected by the Lord Mayor during his/her one year term (in all the many long years there have been only two female Lord Mayors).

Those portraits were my favorite part since they all had so much character and told a story of the time.
This was my favorite portrait, Niall Ó Donnghaile, the most recent Lord Mayor from the Sinn Féin party and at 25 the youngest Lord Mayor ever.

It's painted by a well-known street artist and it has the brick-looking frame to imagine a wall. That's his Granny in the upper right, and it has the name of his town, a political figure he admires, a Titanic poster because the town is nuts for the Titanic, and other bits I've forgotten.

(internet pic)

They didn't all have the symbols imbedded like this one but the uniqueness of each individual was obvious from the artist's work.
A poster of the view you're looking at identifying the buildings.

There was a line of text on this poster that I've been mulling on ever since. It talked about this building and that building as being evidence of the time when Belfast was (...important). I can't remember it exactly but I'm sure to be back in the area and will take a picture that includes all of the sign.
I'm such a fan of public art and these are just random bits, not the neighborhood of fame.
Another one.

Stephen told me that the city is trying to paint over all the political ones, the angry, aggressive ones, which will be a loss I think but then I haven't seen them. It's in the plan to get there to see what's left.
St Anne's Cathedral and also called Belfast Cathedral, the big church in the Cathedral Quarter.
Interesting on the chairs with hand-made kneeling pads.
Another view.
Hmmm, don't know.
From out the bus window. I had decided not to bother with all the Titanic hoop-la but I've changed my mind and will go see the exhibit because it's The Thing so ok, I've got time, I'll go.
There's a very political component to these flags on the lamp posts as you can imagine.

BBC: "...(He) said community consent is required for such flags to fly and that people should have the right to object to flags on lamp-posts. But the local DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson says he sees no reason to regulate flags on lamp-posts.

"That will only result in more flags going up.

"Have people learned nothing about the way these things operate in Northern Ireland? If you deny someone the right to do something - very often the reaction is precisely the opposite of what you desired.""
August 16

That's Stephen on the right and his pal Victor sitting down. Victor comes by often with his dog LuLu so that LuLu and Stephen's dog...
...Oscar can play.

Oh yes, Oscar does rule this roost. Oscar is a rescue dog from a parking lot and is now about two and half years old. Stephen couldn't decide what to name him so Mum came up with Oscar from Sesame Street. The resemblance is striking.
Getting around Belfast. Where I am it's a good 10 minute walk to the bus stop and then another 10-20 minutes to get into city center depending how long you have to wait for the bus.

What's interesting is that from wherever you are, with very few exceptions, if you want to go somewhere else you have to go back to city center. That's just the way they did it. The buses do run very regularly and I've never waited more than 10 minutes.
There was a once-a-week Friday market today so I thought I'd just walk through on my way to catch the bus to see the Titanic especially since I had to pass by on the way into city center.

This is an historical building and market district. I especially enjoyed the many descriptive panels in one of the halls with dates, pictures, and some stories about the building.
The market itself was basically an undercover Flea Market with ev-ree-thing. Many different kinds of prepared foods; fruit-veg-meat-fish-dairy stalls; handcrafts; collectables; tools; stuff out of people's garages; flowers. Basically the whole gamut of flea market goods.

I bought several savory treats from that bakery place and ONE cookie. That way it was not possible to eat more cookies than the ONE. It was all very good - the tastiest food I've had in Belfast so far. I ate out once and must have ordered wrong, and the rest of the time I've been snacking from the grocery store because it's so convenient here at Stephen's house.
A reflect-o at the flea market.
Then I hopped another bus to see the Titanic exhibit. It's right in place by the shipyard that built it, it's sister ships, and hundreds more.
T I T A N I C !
As you come into the displays the rooms are crowded and very full of very active audio-visual. I think they did it on purpose to make you feel the noise and activity around building a ship.
More audio-visual all talking at once with sound effects going off around every corner.

Then there's more, especially around the construction process, and then the structure of the ship is finished, put in the water and taken to a dock to complete the furnishing.

Now everything gets quiet and elegant as they show the interiors. One thing I wouldn't have guessed. They had no way to do laundry so they had to carry all the table dressings, all the sheets, all the everything that would need washing, for the entire journey.
A photo for scale, and The Captain. It takes a certain amount of built-in confidence to be a ship's Captain.

The section of when the ship went down was maybe the best in how it made you feel the rising panic and then the enormity of the loss.
The back of the building. The design is pretty literal, but well done none the less.

Here the cement and grass areas all have several meanings in the story of the Titanic - the size of the ship, the number saved in each class, various other designations. It was interesting.
Standing at the end of the Titanic site you can look out onto the working shipyard and see that there is not much doing.
Samson and Goliath are huge gantry cranes completed in 1969 and 1974 by Harland & Wolff, the owners of the shipyard. These cranes span one of the largest dry-docks in the world.

In 2003: "Northern Ireland Office Minister Angela Smith said: "These cranes are an essential part of our city, our roots and our culture." The cranes have been "scheduled" under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 which ensures that any action to alter or change them would need consent."

I'm not sure I totally get all this. In 2003 these cranes were 29 and 34 years old. It's hard for me to see things so recent as essential to an ancient city's roots and culture. I do think they are representatives of a better time though, including the early 1900s when this shipyard built The Titanic and all her sisters, when the shipyard employed 35,000 workers, when it had its Golden Age.

Harland & Wolff are diversifying their focus into offshore projects, ship's maintenance and refit, alternative energy technologies, and other efforts as well. But Samson and Goliath, I guess they do represent the historical past and hope for the future.

(internet pic .. wherever this picture was taken from, I couldn't get there.)
The Ulster Museum in the Queen's Quarter. It made my little eyes spin in my little head.

It's like a mini-version of the MET in New York where they have some of everything. Here they have 1/100th the number of objects as the MET but some of everything: a few dinosaurs, a mummy, paintings and sculpture, a children's art center, costumes, historical farm equipment, storyboards of the history of Belfast. Everything.
This is a work by Felim Egan Score and I want it.
Between the Ulster Museum and the Botanic Garden we find a statue that says simply Kelvin.

LP: "The green oasis of Belfast's Botanic Gardens is a short stroll away from the university. Just inside the Stranmillis Rd gate is a statue of Belfast-born William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, who helped lay the foundation of modern physics and who invented the Kelvin scale that measures temperatures from absolute zero (-273°C or 0°K)"
We have been in Queen's Quarter for the Ulster Museum, the Botanic Garden, and here, the Lanyon Building of Queen's University. Designed by Robert Layton in 1849, it made me stare.

It's got a Gothic Revival façade. The wiki article on Gothic Revival (or Victorian Gothic or Neo-Gothic) is very interesting .. and forgotten in a flash.
This mural is the only one I've seen in this neighborhood but there are many more in the areas when the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods adjoin, along the Peace lines. More on this later.
August 17 and 18

On the 17th I gave myself a day off. It was lovely and here at Stephen's (mi casa-su casa) I could do my laundry, catch up on bookkeeping, get clean, book some of my onward arrangements, and do up all the pictures from the 16th. Ahhh.

Now it's the 18th and I'm walking to the bus. More New Flags indicating that this is a Protestant area. Once I get on the bus it's just a few stops and the flags of the Republic start to show up on the lamp posts.
It's Sunday and I had a carefully planned out bus schedule since there are so few running. The only time you can really count on a schedule it seems is if you are getting the bus at its origin. They hit those times well, but even with such reduced service and more than usual waiting time I did manage my agenda.

This is what one of the main shopping streets in city center looks like on Sunday around noon.
The sign says 'Free Marian Price Now!'. Her long history with the IRA has lead to a few imprisonments beginning in 1973 when she was convicted, along with others, of several London car bombings.

She's out now, freed on May 30, 2013.
My destination today was Belfast Castle. Here it is from the back. I left the cars in so you can get some idea of scale.
Here are other people's pictures from different angle. The surrounding grounds are all Cave Hill Park and very gorgeous.

(internet pix)
A cat. There's a story in the castle lore that nothing bad will happen as long as a white cat lives there and for this reason there are many images of cats about the place. I'm always up for some cat.
I ate a big lunch. I was hungry. I got the steak. It tasted much better than it looks and the potatoes through all of Ireland have been uniformly delicious. And a Guinness. Deeelish.

I'm in the middle of my so-far favorite section of Proust. He's on a long-awaited trip with his Granny to Balbec.
Followed by an accordion concert!
There's Samson and Goliath out there. As usual wikipedia has all the fact ma'am, just the facts:

"The cranes are situated in the shipyard of Harland & Wolff and were constructed by the German engineering firm Krupp, with Goliath being completed in 1969 and Samson, slightly further inland, in 1974. Goliath stands 96 metres (315 ft) tall, while Samson is taller at 106 metres (348 ft). At the time Harland & Wolff was one of the largest shipbuilders in the world.

"The announcement that they were to be built was an important event at the time. It signaled that one of Northern Ireland's largest employers was to expand at a time when the country's Troubles were raging, and consequently inward investment was at a low."
Remember James back in Killarney. He went on often and at length about 'Irish parking'. "They just stop anywhere and they leave. That's it." To hear this properly in your head you have to pronounce all 'th' sounds using 'd' instead.
Back in city center that screen was playing some BBC sports show. I hadn't noticed it before but it must be cool for big events.
This is a random bar I shot out the window of the bus.
Here are, from what I could find, the most well known of the bars.

Everyone wants to compare Belfast and Dublin and this is perhaps an example. Belfast is a town of industry. They made things here before the 30 years of recent strife. It feels very much less tricked out for the tourists but that makes total sense since up until recently Belfast was considered a risky destination. As an example the whole Titanic center just opened in late 2012.

Here's something from wikitravel: "Shattered by more than three decades of paramilitary conflict, Belfast has undergone a renaissance in recent years and is now a vibrant, modern city. It has been voted the fourth best city in the UK for a city break in the Guardian/Observer travel awards."

(internet pix)

I have to get ready now and sleep soon because tomorrow I'm off at 7am to see the Giant's Causeway, back very late, and then the next day I have to be out at 5:30AM(!) to make my transfer to Edinburgh.
August 19 tour to Giant's Causeway

Just another flag picture as I walk from the bus to the meeting place for today's tour of the Giant's Causeway. The Giant's Causeway is the only UNESCO site in Northern Ireland and a must-see when visiting Belfast.
On the way we made several stops.

First stop, Carrickfergus Castle. The decent picture is Ms Wiki's. Built in 1177 you can just imagine its long history especially since it was still in military use up until 1928.
The bay, Belfast Lough, upon which Carrickferfus Castle sits.
This is the place where King William III first set foot in Ireland on June 14, 1690 and this is a statue in his honor. In the Republic of Ireland we find a far different view of King William III.
The drive along the Antrim coast was absolutely gorgeous, even from the bus.
The Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge is there, linking the mainland to the first island.
Now maintained by the National Trust, this bridge was originally used by local fishermen who dropped nets from the bridge to catch passing salmon.

Someone else crossing the bridge .. and check out that fab coastline.
And me too!

The inset is when my phone 'went off' as the guy who was taking my picture handed it back. It is very far down there. We're crossing that chasm on a rope bridge. Quite the tourist attraction.
Next stop is for lunch, the Bushmills factory, but we didn't get to have a tour .. not enough time but... were welcome to buy flights of various delights. I didn't do it though. Too much for even me.
Dunluce Castle, after some time...Wiki: "Dunluce Castle served as the seat of the Earl of Antrim until the impoverishment of the MacDonnells in 1690, following the Battle of the Boyne. Since that time, the castle has deteriorated and parts were scavenged to serve as materials for nearby buildings."
The first long view on the long walk to Giant's Causeway.

I'm going to tell the mythology of Giant's Causeway because the main character is Finn MacCool and how can you not love a name like that.

Italics copied from

Finn, a renowned warrior was going about his daily duties on the north coast when one of his not so close friends, a Scottish giant called Benandonner started shouting and ridiculing Finn's fighting prowess. This ruffled Finn who after a few hours of insults, lifted a lump of earth and pelted it to Scotland as a challenge to this giant.
This is a camel who came to stay with Finn MacCool.

The Scottish giant retaliated with a rock back to Finn shouting that if he could get his hand on him, he would make sure that Finn would never fight again adding that unfortunately he could not swim the short distance across the Channel, so Finn would be spared that fate.
I'm walking along and wondering where is this Giant's Causeway!

Finn got enraged by this and tore large pieces from the cliffs, he worked for over a week pushing these giant columns into the ocean bed to make a sturdy causeway to Scotland, when he had finished he shouted across to Benandonner, 'Now you'll have no excuse you big gab, come on over and do your best'. Fearing to lose his own reputation and pride the Scottish giant had no alternative but come over the causeway.
There, in the far distance, it's looking like pillars.

Finn was super tired, having not slept for the week he worked on the causeway and did not feel ready for fighting. He thought about how he could buy some time and recuperate to face the Scottish giant but his wife Una already had the plan in hand, she would dress him up as a baby. Quickly they made what looked convincingly like a large cot and disguised Finn as a baby ...... and they waited.
We're walking across the tops of another set of stones.

The Scottish giant arrived and banged on Finn's door shouting, 'Where is that coward MacCool'? Finn's wife answered the door and politely said that Finn was away but invited him in for a cup of tea, reassuring Benandonner that Finn would not be long.
And there it is, the main feature. I was expecting several of these leading farther out into the ocean, but it was great anyway and we were lucky on the weather since when the stones are wet they are very very slippery.

Benandonner then noticed the baby cot and the baby inside it and his eyes widened in fear, he thought to himself, my goodness if this is the size of the baby. What size is the Father? He reached his hand in to touch the sleeping baby, half out of curiosity and half as a sign of affection, Finn bit his hand with the bite of a horse.
This is me walking along where I can find flat stones and steadying myself against the pillars.
You can see in the green hill in the far distance a shape that looks like organ pipes indicating that the whole area could erode into these fabulous shapes.

Benandonner was shocked by this and thought to himself, if this is what the baby is capable of, what must the father be capable of and what could he not do to me? This thought terrified him and his fear got the better of him. He took to his heels and ran like he had never run before, back across the causeway to Scotland, as he went he pulled out the giant columns to stop Finn following him.
The Visitor's Center made to look like it belongs with the stones but they made the pillars all square, not as interesting as the real thing.
August 19 a drive-around with Stephen

Stephen had offered to take me to see the murals and for a tour around the Peace Wall, and I was anxious to take him up on the invitation.

I was expecting an experience similar to what I had in Berlin - great art, really interesting political commentary, and the like.

But I was so wrong. This is a shot of the Shankill Road, well reported and often the scene of Orangemen marches and violent encounters, the Shankill is a center for Protestant loyalist/unionist paramilitarism.
This is a section of the Peace Wall along one of the Peace lines, just off Shankill Road. You can see the locked gate. There are several gates that lead into the completely surrounded Catholic nationalist neighborhood of the Falls Raod.
This is how it felt out the car window. So overwhelming. Huge, ominous, and so real.

As late as this July during the marching season all the gates were locked to, as much as possible, keep the sides apart.
The murals on this extremely tall wall are projects funded by various organizations and it seems the content is 'approved', trying to soften the violent and aggressive images that appear regularly.

Wiki: "The most prominent Peace lines in the past few years separate: the nationalist Falls Road and unionist Shankill Road areas of West Belfast; the Catholic Short Strand from the Protestant Cluan Place areas of East Belfast; and the Protestant Fountain estate and Catholic Bishop Street area of Derry."
On the Catholic side of the wall, it's just plain at this point anyway. And kids, playing.
A memorial for fallen republicans on the Falls Road side.

The naming conventions (unionist, republican, nationalist, loyalist, etc.) can be confusing but it basically boils down to Catholics vs Protestants.
Back in Shankill, all the murals actually painted by the residents are violent memorials and statements of loyalist purpose.
And many many more.
Stephen told me there are exactly three integrated schools (Protestants and Catholics) in all of Belfast. The sign says College but it's what we would call a high school.

They have placed these schools in areas far from the contested areas, looking for neutral territory and then everyone has to drive in. I don't why I was so surprised, but I definitely was. I guess I thought since you can't tell Protestants and Catholics apart by sight it would not be possible to be so segregated.
According to Stephen, in the distance is the tallest building in Ireland, north or south, and a Belfast point of pride and a sign of improving times.
On our tour we drove past Stephen's new building for his business, there on the corner, much bigger and better than the previous location in the inset just a few doors down.
The Parliament Building.
Then we had a nice Chinese buffet for dinner. Bye Stephen, thank you, it's been great!
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